Using Ability Tests to Discriminate | DCR Workforce Blog

Using Ability Tests to Discriminate

My mother always used to hold that the simplest task can be managed differently by different people and the execution reflects the intelligence and education of the performer. But, I have always held that intelligence is inherent and even an uneducated individual could display project management capabilities that could stump a PMP certified professional – because I have actually seen such a person. Due to this dichotomy, ability tests are undoubtedly a great tool to ascertain a job applicant’s true capabilities and potential for performance on the job.

Time to Revise:

If you swear by the reliability of ability tests in your recruitment process, this one is for you! As of July 19th, the clear warning bell has sounded for employers who use ability tests to make sure that their testing process does not put obstacles in the way of minority job applicants. In a settlement with the Department of Labor, Leprino Foods paid $550,000 in back pay and (lost) benefits to minority applicants it never hired – for allegedly using ability tests as barriers to entry for some job applicants! Leprino also had to induct some of them into service. Leprino’s practice of administering a skills assessment test to  verify a candidates’ ability to solve problems using applied mathematics–were judged to be totally unrelated to the skills Leprino required from individuals applying for ‘temporary laborer’ positions. .

Setting Ability Tests:

The context in which the DOL has set the warning is entirely appropriate, but just as there are shades of grey between white and black; we have many different contexts for setting such tests and it is the shades of grey which need to toe the line drawn by the DOL.

When using ability tests to assess the competency of an applicant to perform a job employer had better ensure that they have a comprehensive job description prepared for the job.  They must:

  • ensure that the existing tests being used are not creating a negative impact on the prospects of any particular group of applicants
  • only adopt a new test after ensuring that the test does not favor a particular group of people while discriminating against another group
  • Run a sample test on a group of existing employees to correlate their performance on the job with the results of the test
  • demonstrate that the ability tests being administered are tailored to the specific work being assigned prove that ability tests are supplemented by other selection criteria like interviews which probe into the abilities of a candidate on job-related skills

Instead of laying themselves open to charges of discrimination, employers may also consider focusing on increasing the diversity of their workplace by providing the required training to the less-represented group.  Through this approach, they will gain able workers and also fulfil their social responsibility.

The content on this blog is for informational purposes only and cannot be construed as specific legal advice or as a substitute for competent legal advice. They reflect the opinions of DCR Workforce and may not reflect the opinions of any individual attorney. Do contact an attorney for advice specific to your issue or problem.
Lalita is a people/project manager with extensive experience in operations, HCM and training and development across industries like banking, education, business consulting, BPO and information technology. She believes in a dynamic approach to life and learning as change is the only constant.